Bengals owe fans a vision of the future
Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov. 25
The Cincinnati Bengals are bad. Historically bad, in fact. The Bengals set a franchise record for futility last week when the team lost at home to rival Pittsburgh, dropping to 0-11. It was the team’s 13th consecutive loss dating back to last season. So what happens now?
If any other business performed this badly for this long, dramatic changes would have been made by now. Not so with the Bengals. There doesn’t seem to be any long-term strategy with this organization. And if there is a plan, nobody outside of the Brown brain trust seems to have a clue what it is. The Bengals’ organizational leadership owes it to fans to reveal their vision of the future, at least in part, especially if the Brown family expects season ticketholders to renew next year.
Some of the fixes are obvious and long clamored for: hire a general manager, expand the team’s scouting department, invest more in analytics. Ousting rookie head coach Zac Taylor after one year might be premature, but after such a lackluster, and so far winless season, doesn’t there at least have to be a discussion about the future of the coaching staff?
At the very least, management can start by acknowledging the Bengals are in rebuilding mode, something the front office has been reluctant to do. The Bengals frustrated fans and confounded pro football pundits when they stood pat at the trade deadline last month instead of dealing aging but talented players such as A.J. Green, Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins and Cordy Glenn, or even then-benched quarterback Andy Dalton, for future draft picks. Given the Bengals reluctance to dabble in free agency, the draft might be the only way this team gets the infusion of youth and talent it needs to be competitive again.
Accumulating draft picks, a la the Miami Dolphins, would have sent a message to fans that the Bengals are planning and thinking about the future. Instead, making no transactions told fans the Bengals are in denial about their prospects and comfortable with the status quo. It’s difficult to ask a fanbase that has waited 27 years for a playoff win to be patient. But they might be, if they believe their team has a plan.
The only thing that seems reasonably certain right now is that the Bengals will end the season holding the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Carson Palmer was the last, but an injury and team frustrations sent him packing. Akili Smith was a bust. Ki-Jana Carter blew out his knee and was never the same. Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson never lived up to his potential or the hype. So given the team’s track record drafting snake-bitten players, fans can’t even take that into comfort.
There may be no other private business that has more public investment than professional sports. We, the fans, feel like the Bengals are part of our family, and we are owners too. (Hamilton County taxpayers actually own Paul Brown Stadium courtesy of the worst stadium financing deal in American sports history.) It’s a relationship that has been cultivated since the team’s inception in 1968.
There doesn’t seem to be any real commitment by owner Mike Brown to winning – something former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said he was frustrated by in a recent interview. That lack of commitment and ownership’s reputation for being cheap has become a stain on this city and has made the Bengals a national embarrassment.
The Bengals stadium lease ends in 2026 and some in the Queen City are already questioning whether the Bengals should stay or go. To be clear, being an NFL city is an asset and the team, through the philanthropy and volunteerism of players, coaches and the organization, has a profound impact on our community. But the Bengals can’t expect fans to continue to show their support with the product that is currently being put on the field. The empty seats at PBS on Sundays speak louder than words.
Loyal Bengals fans who have stuck with this team, which has been mired in mediocrity or less than that for nearly three decades, deserve better. They deserve championships. At the very least, they deserve a plan. Can someone please tell us what it is?